SPRING is alive with color. And lately this scribe has been seeing lots of color. The common things are green grass on area lawns, yellow dandelion flowers in those lawns, tree leaves emerging from swollen bud scales, plus new wild flowers emerging from winter's long sleep deep within area forests. Add to this the smells of the soil activity as the thawed ground awakens to perform plant growth duties for a new growing season.
Recent river area hikes during spring turkey season have also added to the color mix. Huddled into a turkey blind well before dawn's first light, I watched as the faint glow of light from the east chased away the darkness lingering in the west. With every minute of light growing more intense from the eastern sky, tree shapes took on more detail. Long shadows began to form just prior to the sun's rise over the horizon. And best of all was the fog, white, low hanging, misty clouds hugging the ground, silently blending into and around the contours of the grasses, trees and shrubs. The river water itself being warmer that day than the air above it, allowed fog banks to form and hover over the water, encapsulating everything in a wispy thin blanket of white.
Fog is obviously a different type of white than snow. Yes, that infrequent ingredient of fickle weather events caused snow to fall in early May this year, placing about 5 or 6 inches of the wet, heavy "dew" on top of our green, grassy lawns. May snows are unusual, but history shows that it has happened before. And it will likely happen again. May snows have shown how the ground can turn white in Iowa on May 12, 1882. Again in 1907 on May 3 and May 15 snow covered large portions of Iowa. 1945 was a good year also, but area farmers would have had serious questions about the sanity of Mother Nature to put 8 inches on the ground in Denison. Two years later, 1947, the entire state was covered in white on May 28. Twenty years later, in 1967, a May 3 storm added up to 8 inches of white snow on the southern half of Iowa.
T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG
Big, bold and strikingly beautiful, a red-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) male enjoys eating sunflower seeds. The seeds were strategically placed on a small platform feeding station outside this author’s kitchen window. Meanwhile, inside the house, a tripod, camera and 300 mm lens were solidly locked down with the focus already preset for distance. Now it was just a matter of time before the birds came for breakfast. When they did, this image was one of many captured last week during the height of migration for these neotropical birds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are very common.
Back inside this scribe's turkey blind, the fog did not increase in its thickness, but slowly and silently disappeared as new sunlight, this time above the horizon, warmed the air. Like a puff of smoke, the air cleared. Left behind were numerous sparkling points of light everywhere. Every blade of dark green grass was emblazoned with big drops of water clinging to its leaf edges. It was a beautiful scene, ephemeral of course, but an added bonus to being outside in the early morning stillness.
Deer stealthily paced nearby my blind, curious and, at the same time, cautious due to the big blob tent-like hut they weren't use to. The coat color of the deer remained covered in its winter gray-brown long-haired blanket. But evidence was emerging of a new color, this time the reddish-brown of its new summer short hairs. One doe had big patches of old hair ready to fall off. Where it had, the bright new summer hair shown through easily.
The colors I wanted to see, the rich browns and tans of a big old tom turkey, eluded me this day. Instead, I was treated to one jake turkey, an immature male bird from last year's hatch. His head was not blood red. His little 2-inch long beard was hardly a tuft big enough to see. But I did see it. Just come closer please. Not. He was not interested in visiting my lifeless turkey decoys. So I watched him turn and walk away, sunlight glinting off his feathered body. Spring is alive with color. That's nice.
The striking and bold color pattern of red-breasted grosbeak birds is an easy eye catcher. Black, white and red are prominently displayed for us to see. In nature, however, the bold colors are meant to attract and identify male grosbeaks for the benefit of female brownish colored grosbeaks. Grosbeaks are songbirds of the eastern deciduous forest and woodlands. In flight, both male and female grosbeaks have salmon-pink feathers under their wings, visible in flight. The winter homes for this bird are Central and South America. Foods include seeds, fruits and insects. Their call is sometimes compared to the squeaks of a rusty spring being flexed. If you see them this spring, it is likely the colors will grab your attention. Keep looking.
GAME PROTECTION was a growing concern for our hunter ancestors from colonial times. Connecticut prohibited game exports across its borders as early as 1677. Virginia banned the harvest of doe deer in 1738. New York forbade the use of hounds to hunt deer in 1788. Rhode Island passed the first seasonal regulations in 1846 to protect waterfowl from spring shooting. Bag limits first appeared in Iowa in 1878 and by the end of that century, 13 other states had found it beneficial to pass regulations on the amount of game a hunter could posses. In just 10 more years, another 23 states did the same thing.
The concept of hunting licenses for residents caught on quickly. The first to do so was Michigan and North Dakota in 1895. By 1910, 33 additional states had licensing requirements. To enforce these licensing rules, the first game wardens were appointed in 1878 in New Hampshire and California. By 1900, game wardens were employed in 31 states. The Lacey Act was passed by Congress in 1900, thanks to John Lacey of Iowa. This law helped outlaw market hunting by prohibiting the interstate transportation of game killed or possessed in violation of state law at either end of the transaction. Hunters also took the lead in additional efforts to reform game laws. Today hunters still have input into the process for establishing season dates, bag limits, shooting hours and other restrictions based on fair chase principles. Fair chase is one of the tenets of modern day wildlife conservation. Also today, all 50 states have well-organized natural resource agencies that get their primary funding from hunters, fishermen and trappers. This helps make the point that hunting is conservation, fishing is conservation and trapping, likewise, is part of what makes conservation work, keeps wildlife populations strong and holds great promise for all of wildlife's future in America.
WILD TURKEY numbers for the state of Iowa show about 9,500 tom turkeys have dropped to hunters arrows or shotguns. Marshall County hunters are hovering at 36. Mississippi River counties are high-count counties for turkeys because of deep timbered valleys that break off from the big river. Wild turkeys are common now, another example of a wildlife success story.
Next weekend is MEMORIAL DAY, a time to remember and reflect upon the service and sacrifices of military units of America's history. It is a rich heritage we enjoy in the U.S. due to our vigilance to maintain freedom. Do pay your respects to service men and women on Memorial Day.
The long weekend is a time you may want to use to go camping, a traditional start of camping activities. Check early for state park reservations or vacancies. Most popular sites are already booked. But in many county parks, a first-come first-served policy still works for lots of folks. Here are a few tips for camping to save time and frustration. First, keep track of weather in case of suddenly developing thunderstorms and lightning. Second, arrive early in the day to set up. Third, prepare easy to reheat meals at home. That leaves more time for hiking, fishing or other fun things. Fourth, bug spray and sun screen, remember these items. Fifth, check registration kiosks for special programs or area activities. Sixth, do not burn trash. Seventh, do not bring fireworks, most of which are illegal and disturbing to other campers who want peace and quiet. Lastly, be a good neighbor by observing quiet hours. Make sure the campsite is clean when you leave.
In spring, nature gives all vegetation the green signal.
Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.